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Dining Service’s melting pot
Photos and Story by James Hill
The diversity of food one can find at any of the campus dining centers around PCC is matched only by the diversity of the Dining Services staff that make it.
Out of more than 60 staff throughout the district, 10 countries are represented in Dining Services. Manager Dianna Benting’s crew includes people from China, Hong Kong, Germany, Japan, England, Mexico, El Salvador, India, Burma and Vietnam. All bring a unique insight into their own culture’s cuisine and a willingness to share that knowledge with their fellow employees.
“We have one of the most diverse departments in the college,” Benting said. “The demand by the customer and the different ethnic communities moving into the local area warrant us to diversify the food. It’s important for us to draw on the expertise we have.”
That expertise means Benting’s staff can make food from a wide spectrum of regions like Latin America and Asia. Instead of simply offering traditional Chinese cuisine, the staff from Hong Kong can create their own twist. Or an employee from El Salvador can cook up a uniquely El Salvadorean meal that gives customers an interesting contrast to the more traditional Mexican fare.
“Students have been nothing but complimentary,” Benting said of the growth in multicultural cuisine around PCC. “It’s all due to the diversity of the food.”
The growth in international dishes not only began when the makeup of the staff became more multicultural, but by employees initiating their own ideas. For one event, a staffer suggested making sushi for a business meeting at Sylvania. It was a huge hit and from that point on, sushi became an integral dish offered in the cafeteria there.
“They’ll say they can do this or that and we go from there,” she said. “They’ve suggested sushi, taco salads and Thai salad rolls, suggestions which have resulted in us offering a full wok and Mexican food bar.”
Even visitors who come to the college acknowledge the quality of food is pretty good. It wasn’t always like that, Benting said. Outside groups who would use the college facilities for meetings would go to a nearby restaurant to eat because of the stereotype of what a college cafeteria could provide. But because of the staff, groups now leave it to PCC to cater their events.
“We had an international group that had a Middle Eastern theme and they wanted that type of food,” she said. “It is a food we were not accustomed to and they had people coming in from all over the country. They actually wanted to go to the local Middle Eastern restaurant because they felt a community college couldn’t make it very authentic. But I told them that we could with the expertise of our European chef. We looked at different recipes and after making a sample menu for them they accepted. Afterward, many of them told us it was the best Middle Eastern food they ever had.”
The diverse food has become especially popular with students. Benting says that the Asian foods are their favorite with the most popular item being the salt and pepper squid, offered a few times every month. Another popular item is the Asian chicken salad.
The diversity in the staff has also built a sense of camaraderie. It includes a five-star chef and Food Service Supervisor Darin Rose, who worked five years with Korean chefs. Many come on referrals by other staff or through the college’s Steps to Success or Dislocated Workers programs. But it doesn’t take long for them to feel welcome and start sharing recipes or cultural customs with one another.
“They love to learn about each other’s cultures,” Benting said. “They are always bringing in something they cooked at home or inviting one another to their cultural events.”